News

Gas rates likely to be stable this fall

By Kevin Hanson

The Courier-Herald

With fall just around the corner, natural gas users everywhere might be shuddering at the thought of what rates might do.

In Enumclaw, where gas costs jumped to painful levels in recent years, a bit of calm exists. Ratepayers might not be entirely happy with what they're paying, but, at least, they'll not be hit with increasing costs during the coming cold-weather season.

The Enumclaw City Council acted earlier this year to lock in a guaranteed rate that will keep costs stable until October 2007. Public Works Director Chris Searcy admits looking for some rate consistency didn't guarantee the lowest rates around, “but it locked in a predictable rate, at least.”

Of course, in the world of city budgeting, nothing is sacred. As council members work this fall through the process of formulating a 2007 budget, everything is fair game. Searcy doubts anything will happen to bump rates upward, however.

“We don't anticipate rates will change,” he said. “We certainly don't envision them going up.”

Enumclaw's natural gas customers have been paying, since November, a total of $1.36 per therm. The city pays an average of $1.01 per therm, with the additional charges going toward maintenance of the city system, salaries of utility employees, administration, taxes and other costs.

The world of natural gas is a volatile one, where prices are impacted both by natural events and man-made conflicts. For example, ratepayers need only think back to a year ago, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf area. Prices for natural gas - which comes either from the Rocky Mountain region or Canada - typically follow suit. Last year, prices shot through the roof, causing the highest rates in local history.

Pre-Katrina prices hovered at about 89 cents per therm, Searcy said.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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